(Creative Commons Image by Walt Stoneburner on Flickr)
Lucky you! A commentary on John 1:1-18 on WorkingPreacher.org and a Dear Working Preacher column on the same text, in the same week, both by me. You may be wondering, what else can she say? Believe me, so am I. In my commentary, I was explicit in naming a number of different sermon ideas depending on what part of the text you choose to focus. I won’t replicate that approach here. Nor am I interested in picking one of the possible directions I suggested and fleshing that out for this column. Instead, I want to do something entirely different.
Here’s what I’d like us to consider -- what a difference a prologue makes.
We tend to focus a lot of our preaching attention on what a text says with less concern about what a text does. There is a lot that John 1:1-18 says. Clearly. Exhaustingly, even. This week, let’s think together about what these opening verses do. How do they function? They orient, introduce, ground. They provide perspective, a default position, a direction. They set the tone, set out themes so we know what to expect – a lens through which to view what comes next.
I wonder if perhaps we all need a prologue -- a prologue for our lives, even our believing, our discipleship, our relationship with God.
Of course, John knew the end of the story. Sometimes that’s the only way you can write a beginning. But even if we do not know the end, we can still choose to articulate that which will anchor our lives, albeit with all of its unknowns. This is not about having answers. It’s about having a sense of alignment, cohesiveness, interpretation. A hermeneutic for living, if you will.
If you had to write a prologue for your life, what would it say? What would it include?
What themes will orient your life this year? Specifically, what claims about God that then make a claim on your own identity will matter for you this year? Maybe we could call this a reorientation of New Year’s resolutions.
Another way to think about it -- we all act as a character in our life script. But sometimes, and this is extraordinarily difficult, the script has to be altered. And it may mean that you have to change it, regardless of how the other characters respond, irrespective of determined dialogue, in spite of suspected disappointment and unmet expectations. It just has to be revised for your own survival. Writing a prologue is an exercise in script rewriting. Not only for the sake of how you want to live your life but how you need God to be in your life.
This might be an especially helpful exercise at the beginning of a new year -- what resolutions you want to make but also what God resolutions you need to make. In other words, resolutions not just for the sake of your life, but for the sake of God in your life, and for the sake of helping your congregation orient their lives to God’s Christmas, God’s present, and God’s future.
This could also be about writing a prologue for your preaching life this year. What are your main commitments? What does your congregation need to hear? What will you need to preach, need to teach, how will you need to be present with your people? And then, when things do not go as planned, and this certainly will happen, at least there is a foundation, a way to begin to make sense of what you are asked to negotiate.
A working prologue is not about predicting your future, a calculated conjecture of the year’s events, or a fool-proof plan to face whatever comes your way. Rather, we take our cue from the Fourth Evangelist. It’s about a radical realization that life can’t be the same. And when life cannot be the same, then some kind of determined incarnated change of direction needs to happen.
A working prologue can also be about self- awareness and self-regulation for the sake of authentic and communal biblical preaching -- authentic biblical preaching so as to realize your biases; communal biblical preaching so that you tend to what your congregation needs to hear. If you know your own commitments, you can filter them, interpret them, for your own authenticity as a preacher but also for accountability of being a preacher of God’s contextual word.
In the end, preparing a prologue for your year will help you think theologically. Not theologically in the sense of strident and secure orthodoxy but rather thinking theologically with the understanding of and realization that theology and humanity intersect -- with the absolute commitment to the inseparability, inextricable interconnection of humanity and divinity, theology and anthropology, incarnation and crucifixion. That is incarnation. How you see your life through the fact that God shared life.
Let’s not forget Christmas. It matters for everything.
This is John’s gift to us this Christmas -- an invitation to invest in our own theological prologues. Our interpretation of John would be lost without the first 18 verses -- what’s at stake for John, what matters to John, who Jesus is for John. We might do well to imagine our prologues in a similar manner. What’s lost if we don’t set out some sort of theological orientation for our lives? What’s at stake for us this year, what matters to us, who is Jesus for us?
A prologue for the New Year. Happy writing!